National Briefs: Obama moves on NSA pick

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has signed off on the nomination of Vice Adm. Michael Rogers to lead the embattled National Security Agency and the Pentagon's cyberwarfare organization, according to sources familiar with the decision.

In an unusual move, Mr. Obama himself interviewed Adm. Rogers last week, in a reflection of the job's high profile as the NSA has drawn fire for the scope of its surveillance practices.

Adm. Rogers, a Navy cryptologist, has long been seen as the frontrunner to succeed Gen. Keith Alexander, who has been NSA director since 2005.

Adm. Rogers, whose Navy career spans more than 30 years, is "uniquely qualified" to take on the job, said Terry Roberts, a former naval intelligence official. She cited his background in intelligence and his experience heading Fleet Cyber Command, the Navy unit that works for U.S. Cyber Command.

New face of food stamps

WASHINGTON -- In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps -- a switch from a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.

Some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role. It suggests that government spending on the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program -- twice what it cost five years ago -- may not subside significantly anytime soon.

Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training, a sign that the safety net has stretched further to cover America's former middle class, according to an analysis of government data for The Associated Press by economists at the University of Kentucky. Formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance the program now covers 1 in 7 Americans.

U.S. gas down to $3.31

CAMARILLO, Calif. -- The average U.S. price of gasoline has dipped 3.5 cents a gallon in the past two weeks and prices in California have fallen nearly 8 cents in the same time period.

According to the Lundberg Survey released Sunday, the average nationwide for a gallon of regular is now $3.31. Midgrade averages $3.50 and premium is $3.65.

Cruise illnesses probed

WASHINGTON -- Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. said one of its ships will return home from the Caribbean on Wednesday, two days early after hundreds of passengers and crew became sick.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control boarded the Explorer of the Seas in the Virgin Islands Sunday to assess the situation. The agency said in a report on its website last week that 281 of 3,050 passengers aboard the ship had gastrointestinal illnesses such as diarrhea. Twenty-two of the vessel's 1,165 crew members also were sick.

1st-class stamp price up

WASHINGTON -- It's going to cost you a few pennies more to mail a letter.

The cost of a first-class postage stamp is now 49 cents -- 3 cents more than before.

Regulators approved the price hike in December, and it went into effect on Sunday.

Many people won't feel the increase right away: Forever stamps are good for first-class postage at whatever the future rate.

-- Compiled from news services


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